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Charter-TWC Clock Awaits FCC Vote

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler said he’s eager to start the clock on the merger of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable.

Wheeler said last week that agency will start its informal, 180- day “shot clock” on the deal as soon as the commissioners vote on the protective order for confidential documents submitted for the review. In the meantime, the FCC is not “sitting around sucking eggs” and the process “is underway,” Wheeler said at a press conference following the FCC’s public meeting.

The protective order was submitted for a commissioner-level vote because it deals with broader access-to-information issues in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s remand of the FCC’s protective orders in the mergers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable (pulled off the table earlier this year when the FCC looked unlikely to pass it) and AT&T and DirecTV (which closed last month).

Asked why he was waiting to start the shot clock until the item was voted — some commissioners, notably Republicans, have issues with it and have yet to vote on it — Wheeler signaled that he was not stopping the FCC from reviewing the deal. “We have a team working on it,” he said. “There is material that Charter has already filed. This is a process that is underway.”

The protective orders circumscribe how confidential information submitted in that review is treated and shared with third parties. Wheeler said the reason the shot clock had not started — which would trigger the establishment of a public-comment cycle — was that there was information people needed to see before they can file, and that data required protective orders before it could be shared.

Wheeler said he hoped the FCC would soon have a set of processes for how specific confidential information would be handled.